The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) has proposed an initiative that would enroll up to five million acres of land to promote the sustainable production of next generation biomass energy.
The Biofuels Innovation Program (BIP) would provide financial and technical assistance to landowners to produce native perennial energy crops and crop mixes in a manner that protects the nation’s soil, air, water and wildlife.
The program could be enacted under the energy title of the Farm Bill of 2007.
Biofuels represent a big part of our energy future, and this proposal represents a groundbreaking new direction. Native grasses, trees, and other plants have the potential to double energy yields per acre, with just a fraction of the energy needed to produce corn-based ethanol. As these new technologies come on line, they will be key to our future clean energy production. The use of these fuels will also help stem global warming by decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and storing carbon.—Julie Sibbing, National Wildlife Federation Senior Program Manager for Agriculture Policy
The Biofuels Innovation Program would support a wide variety of feedstocks and technologies. While the program would support production of switchgrass for ethanol, it would also support jojoba for biodiesel, mixed prairie grasses for gasification to generate electricity, trees or grasses for co-generation of electricity, and other alternative energies. The plants used must be perennials native to the United States, and not have the potential to become invasive.
In order for a facility that uses biomass to be economically viable, the biomass it utilizes must be grown within a relatively concentrated area to ensure manageable transportation costs. Most experts describe this area as being within a 50 to 70 mile radius of the facility. The Biofuels Innovation Program is designed to address this issue by requiring groups of landowners to come together to apply for funding as a project, rather than as individual landowners.
The BIP program provides Business Planning and Assistance Grants of up to $50,000 per project to assist in hiring consultants, technical experts, etc., to develop a BIP proposal. A farmer’s cooperative, a local extension service, a bioenergy facility, an entrepreneur, or other entity could apply for the funding, develop a business plan and recruit enough owners and operators to apply for the program.
The projects would be ranked, based on how many owners/operators are participating, the number of acres proposed for enrollment, the probability that the crop or crops proposed to be grown will be utilized for the purposes of the program; the type and diversity of eligible crops to be grown, and the potential for positive economic impact to the local community.
Priority would be granted to projects that produce polycultures of at least two species, those that have the greatest potential to improve soil, water and wildlife over current land covers; those that incorporate planting and/or harvesting practices that maximize diversity, those that will utilize farmer-owned facilities, those with the greatest percentage of beginning and disadvantaged farmers and those in under-represented geographical regions.
In order to prevent subsidies for the destruction of native habitats and the resulting carbon dioxide “burp” that would undermine the global greenhouse emissions implication of any biofuels grown on the land, the BIP program has strict land eligibility criteria that focuses eligibility on non-federal lands that have already been broken for agriculture, managed as pasture with few native species left, farmed for tobacco within the last 15 years, was in a Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contract that has since expired, has been clear cut of forests within the two years prior to enactment of the legislation, or is managed according to Forest Stewardship Council or similar, approved plans for use of excess woody material.
Additionally, due to serious wildlife impacts caused by woody vegetation plantings on areas that were historically grassland, woody crops are restricted to areas that were historically forested.
Participants must plant an eligible crop within two years of enrollment and must agree to the following conservation provisions on all enrolled land in order to ensure the sustainability of the operation and protection of soil, water and wildlife:
Harvesting of eligible crops must not occur during the primary nesting or brood rearing seasons of bird species nesting in the area;
Stubble remnants for non-woody crops shall be a minimum of 10 inches in height to provide for wildlife cover and soil protection;
Soil conservation plans must be implemented by owners or operators for preventing erosion on areas planted and harvested for eligible crops;
Diverse, vegetated buffers are required around all water resources on enrolled lands;
Chemical inputs shall be minimized; and
A “floating reserve” of at least 20% of enrolled acreage must be left un-harvested each year, except for years of drought emergency.